What is social engineering? It is a form of cyberattack that involves using manipulation and deception to gain access to data or information. The goal of social engineering is to trick people into divulging sensitive information, such as passwords and network details, by making them believe they are interacting with someone they trust. 

In some cases, social engineers will also attempt to get you to download malware — software that can be used for malicious purposes — onto your computer without you noticing.

What is Social Engineering: Definition

Social engineering is the act of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. It’s a form of hacking, but instead of breaking into computers, social engineers try to gain access to them by tricking employees into giving up information or downloading malware.

Techniques of Social Engineering: How Does Social Engineering Work?

  • Social engineering may be carried out over the phone, via email, or via text messages. A social engineer may call a company and ask for access to a restricted area, or they may impersonate someone in order to get someone else to open an email account on their behalf.
  • Social engineers use many different tactics in order to achieve their goals. For example, they may claim that they are calling from a company’s help desk and request remote access so they can fix something on your computer or network. Or they might claim that they need your password or other personal information such as bank credentials so they can resolve an issue with your bank account.
  • In some cases, social engineers will even pretend to be law enforcement officers and threaten legal action if you refuse to comply with their demands for information. While it’s important for businesses to take these threats seriously, remember that the police will never call up someone and ask them for their passwords over the phone!

Purpose of Social Engineering

Social engineering is often used in phishing attacks, which are emails that appear to be from a trusted source but are actually aimed at stealing your personal information. The emails usually contain an attachment with malicious software (often called malware) that will infect your computer if opened.

The goal of social engineering is always the same: getting access to something valuable without having to work for it. 

1. Stealing sensitive information

So social engineers may try to trick you into giving up your password and login credentials (such as your username/email address) so they can access your email account or social media profile where they can steal personal information like credit card numbers and bank account info from previous transactions. You might know how to sell on Instagram, but are you equipped with enough knowledge to protect your small business and account from social engineers?

2. Identity theft

They could also use this information to assume the victim’s identity and carry out malicious activities posing to be them down the line if they choose not to destroy it immediately.

Learn why cyberattackers commonly use social engineering

How to identify a Social Engineering Attack?

1. Trust your gut

If you receive any emails or phone calls that sound suspicious, don’t give out any information until you’ve verified your identity. You can do this by calling your company directly or by checking in with the person who supposedly sent the email or left a message on your voicemail.

2. Don’t submit your personal information

If someone asks for your Social Security number or other private details, that’s a sign that they’re trying to take advantage of your trust and use it against you later. It’s advised not to give out any information unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

3. Unusual Requests Without Context

Social engineers usually make large requests without giving any context. If someone asks for money or other resources without explaining why they need it, there’s probably something fishy going on there. It’s better to err on the side of caution when someone makes a large request like this—you never know what kind of damage could be done with access to your bank account!

Here are some ways you can spot social engineering attacks:

  • Receiving an email from someone who claims to be from your IT department asking you to reset your password and provide it in an email or text message
  • Receiving an email from someone claiming to be from your bank asking for personal information, such as your account number or PIN code
  • Receiving an email from someone claiming to be from your bank asking for personal information, such as your account number or PIN code
  • Being asked for information about the company by someone claiming to be from the company’s HR department

Email-based Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing emails – These look like they’re from a legitimate source but are actually trying to trick you into opening an attachment or visiting a malicious website

Spear phishingSpear phishing attacks are more targeted than phishing emails and use information about you to make them seem more credible

CEO FraudCEO fraud is a type of phishing scam that involves impersonating a CEO or high-level executive in order to get access to sensitive information. This can include bank account numbers, wire transfer details, or even employee payroll information.

Learn about other types of social engineering attacks. 

How to Prevent Social Engineering?

We’ve got some tips on how to prevent social engineering attacks and protect yourself from them.

  1. Make sure you have good antivirus software installed on your devices and computers.
  2. Don’t open suspicious emails or attachments from people who aren’t in your circle of trust (this includes emails from anyone claiming to be your bank or credit card company).
  3. Don’t click on links in emails unless you’re sure they’re safe—even if they come from someone you know! If there’s ever any doubt about whether an email is legitimate, call up the sender directly via phone or text message instead of looking for more information online first.
  4. Be wary of unsolicited phone calls or text messages offering something “too good to be true” (this could include free prizes and other offers for signing up for things like free trials). 
  5. Use two-factor authentication wherever possible—this means that even if someone has your password, they will still need another piece of information (like a one-time code) in order to access your account.
  6. Set up email authentication protocols like DMARC to secure your email channels against phishing attacks, social engineering, and domain abuse. 

To Summarize

It’s important to protect against social engineering because it can result in losing money and other personal information as well as compromising security systems and data breaches. 

No matter how good your IT team is at protecting your company from cyberattacks, you can never completely eliminate the risk of someone trying to get into your system through social engineering methods. That’s why it’s so important to train employees about identifying phishing emails and other types of social engineering attacks.